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Orson F. Whitney papers

Orson F. Whitney (1855-1931)

L. Tom Perry Special Collections is pleased to announce the availability of a new digitized collection: Orson F. Whitney papers (MSS 15). This important collection is arranged in three series: 1) Correspondence; 2) Writings; and, 3) Whitney Family papers. The Correspondence series includes letters between Orson F. Whitney and other Church members, Church leaders, family members, and friends. The correspondence gives information about Whitney’s mission to Europe, both as a missionary and mission president. It also contains information about Church members’ experiences during the anti-polygamy campaign in the United States. There is also personal information about Whitney’s family, reports of his trip to Nauvoo, answers to doctrinal questions that people sent him, and letters to apostles of the Church about religious matters. Dated 1873-1931.

Whitney's multi-volume History of Utah

Whitney’s multi-volume History of Utah

The Writings series, which comprises the bulk of the collection, contains writings by Orson F. Whitney including poetry, religious material, non-religious material, his epic poem, “Elias: An Epic of the Ages,” his history of Utah, transcriptions and notes of the King Follett Sermon, and the Church history series “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: A History.” There are also various clippings and reprints from newspapers, magazines, and general conference talks. Dated approximately 1842-1930.

Finally, the Whitney Family papers series includes documents relating to the family and descendants of Orson F. Whitney. Materials include pedigree charts from the Whitney and Smoot families, Zina B. Smoot papers, items collected by Horace K. and Helen Mar Kimball, family writings, correspondence, blessings, Church documents, poems, and photographs. Dated approximately 1847-1900.

Orson F. Whitney was born on July 1, 1855, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Horace K. Whitney and Helen Mar Kimball Whitney. As a young man, Whitney wanted to be an actor and he spent many hours preparing for the stage by studying elocution, fencing, and grammar. However, during General Conference in 1876, Whitney was called to serve in the Eastern States Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His mother sold her land and used the money to fund Whitney’s mission. While on his mission, Whitney discovered his interest in the Gospel as well as in writing and speaking. He started a regular column of his missionary experiences in the “Salt Lake Herald” under the pen name Iago. In 1878, twenty-three-year-old Whitney was called to serve as the bishop of the Eighteenth Ward, a calling he held for 28 years. In 1906, Whitney was called to be an Apostle in the Church. He also completed three more missions for the Church, including being the president of the European Mission in 1921.

Zina Beal Smoot Whitney (1859-1900)

Zina Beal Smoot Whitney (1859-1900)

In 1879, Whitney married Zina Beal Smoot and they had 9 children together. Whitney also had two more wives: Mary Minerva Wells and Emma Whitney Wells. During his life, Whitney edited the “Salt Lake Herald,” served on the city council, participated in the Home Dramatic Club, engaged in politics, and wrote poetry and books. In 1890, he published his first book, a biography of his grandfather Heber C. Kimball. That same year, Wilford Woodruff and John O. Williams commissioned Whitney to write “History of Utah”; he produced two volumes of the work by 1894 and the third in 1898. He also published a biography of Lorenzo Snow, an autobiography, and several books of poetry including his lengthy epic poem “Elias: An Epic of the Ages.”

Whitney died on May 16, 1931, in Salt Lake City, Utah.


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